October 19, 2000
Danger High Voltage
Two and Four Recording Company TF003
Ironically, tenorman George Coleman is most famous for being in the right place at the wrong time.
A Memphis-born, broad shouldered, mainstream specialist, he seemed to be the perfect person to fill the sax chair in Miles Davis' early 1960s quintet. Recommended by John Coltrane for the position, he would have fit hand-in-glove with Davis' former rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. Unfortunately by the time Coleman arrived so had Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Those three kept pushing Miles into a freer and freer direction, ignoring Coleman's talents to such an extent that he finally quit and was replaced by Wayne Shorter. The rest is history.
On his own, Coleman became one of a posse of mature, strong saxophone lone wolves able to play with nearly everyone and never turn in a less than highly capable performance. Trouble was, there was never anything left to forge an individual identity and, sadly, this CD probably won't do so either.
Not that DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE isn't any good. On the contrary, it's swinging, well-played small big band music. It's just that the grooves in which it works have been worn smooth by overuse.
Mabern, a fellow Memphian and a running buddy of Coleman's for more than 40 years, is an exceptionally tasty pianist; bassist Drummond can make any rhythm section move, no matter who's in it; and each of the horn men is a first call player for whatever situation arises in New York.
Which is part of problem here. Not only does every note fall perfectly in place every time anyone takes a solo, but there are times the exact shape of the solo suggests itself before it's completed. We wouldn't want to get any sweat on the nifty suits the band members are pictured wearing would we? Throughout, true to form, only Coleman seems to work at intensity higher than cruising speed
Then there's the choice of material. How many portraits of "Jennie" have been painted over the past half-century? Rotondi may demonstrate his commanding tone here, but old Jennie certainly isn't bent out of space by his conceptions. Moreover Otter's arrangement of "Tenderly" suggests that his idea of the emotion is a brisk jog, which is more likely to cause blisters than romance. Coleman's "Pretty Blues", an unsurprising lightweight swinger that could have come out of the Basie band circa 1960 is made more obvious with Mabern's Count-like intro and a tin soldier line up of one-after-another solos from everyone. Plus Steve Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely", which may already have worn out its welcome at weddings, comes from the urbane Motown tradition. So neither Mabern's attempts to make it Horace Silver-style funky or the horn section uniting on the riff from "It Don't Mean A Thing..."in the background isn't going to lift into the jazz canon. Finally, why is the band referred to as an octet in the notes when there are nine players?
Should mainstream jazz electrify you, this CD may provide you with some sparks. But for most of the rest of us, the disc resembles candlepower more than high voltage.
Track Listing: 1. Isn't She Lovely 2. Conservation 3. Portrait of Jennie 4. Simone 5. Tenderly 6. Follow Me 7. Pretty Blues
Personnel: Jim Rotondi (trumpet); Adam Brenner (alto saxophone); George Coleman, Ned Otter (tenor saxophones); Gary Smulyan (baritone saxophone); Harold Mabern (piano); Ray Drummond (bass); George Coleman Jr. (drums); Daniel Sadownick (percussion)